Bringing a metal product to a plastics show might be confusing to some, but it makes perfect sense to compounder RTP Co.
Winona, Minn.-based RTP showcased its PowderFlo-brand metal injection molding compounds, which are metal-based alloys that can be molded on standard injection molding machinery. During NPE, RTP molded golf divot tools to highlight what the metal alloys can do.
RTP made its name in compounding engineering resins such as nylon and polycarbonate, but sees the metal market as a new opportunity, according to marketing manager Joe Arras.
``These [MIM] products can allow our customers to maximize their machine time,'' Arras said. ``We look at it more as complementing our plastic business than supplementing it.''
RTP began producing the MIM line at its Winona plant in late 2002. The compounds are based on stainless steel and nickel, but can use other metal feedstocks.
RTP also is working to make inroads into the extruded sheet market with a number of plastic compounds that also were launched in late 2002. The company traditionally has done thegreat majority of its sales in injection molding grades, but now is aiming extrusion-grade compounds at displays, signage, countertops and similar markets, Arras said.
Color compounds, including some that use color-shift technology, also are drawing interest at RTP. Those products are ending up in light-emitting-diode displays, auto reflectors and safety lighting strips in airplanes. Arras estimated that about 45 percent of RTP's finished product is colored. The firm operates color laboratories at each of its manufacturing sites.
The Asian market holds promise for RTP. The firm opened its first Asian plant in Singapore last year and opened a sales office in Shanghai, China, in January.
At its European site in Beaune, France, RTP is building a warehouse that will open in late 2003 or early 2004.
At its Winona headquarters, RTP is adding a 60,000-square-foot building that will house research and development work, pilot production and some manufacturing work.
Amid the growth, it's been a bittersweet time for RTP, as the firm's founder, Ben Miller, died in November at age 91. Miller launched RTP in 1980 after selling Fiberite Corp., the specialty chemicals and materials company he had started with his father and brother in the 1940s. Fiberite now operates as Cytec Engineered Materials Inc.
RTP also operates plants in South Boston, Va.; Fort Worth, Texas; and Indianapolis. The firm employs 600 and posted sales of about $150 million in 2002. Although RTP closed a plant in Dayton, Nev., in late 2001, all of the extrusion lines from that site were moved and now are operating at other RTP locations, Arras said.
RTP's sales have been flat for the past couple of years, but Arras said recent sales growth has been encouraging.
``It could be some inventory building mixed with organic growth, but we have seen some picking up,'' he said. ``We've been running a lot of seven-day weeks lately.''